Showing 531 - 540 of 635 annotations tagged with the keyword "Disease and Health"

Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Apr-13-2001
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The first chapter of this memoir consists of two words: "I exaggerate." The narrator then tells us the story of her childhood and early adult experiences as an epileptic. After having her first seizure, at the age of ten, she spends a month at a special Catholic school in Topeka, Kansas, where the nuns teach epileptic children to fall without hurting themselves. This falling may or may not be literal; it is certainly symbolically apt.

During adolescence, Lauren begins lying, stealing, and faking seizures to get attention. She reveals that she has developed Munchausen's Syndrome, whose sufferers are "makers of myths that are still somehow true, the illness a conduit to convey real pain" (88). A neurologist, Dr. Neu, performs surgery severing Lauren's corpus callosum, effectively dividing her brain in half and markedly alleviating the seizure disorder.

Later she attends a writer's workshop where she begins an affair with a married man, a writer much older than she. After it ends badly, she starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous (although she does not drink) and tells her story with such authenticity that when she later confesses that she is NOT an alcoholic, no-one believes her, dismissing her true story as denial. The memoir ends both with her recognition of the value of narrating and with a silent fall to the snowy ground, as the nuns taught her to do, in the knowledge that the sense of falling (rather than the material certainty of landing) is all that is finally, reliably, real.

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Dire Cure

Matthews, William

Last Updated: Mar-27-2001
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This long (11 stanzas of ten lines each) poem takes us through the--at first faulty--cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery endured by the speaker's wife, and witnessed by the speaker. The poet personifies the tumor because to do otherwise would mean that he would "have to think of it as what, / in fact, it was: part of my lovely wife." The poison of chemotherapy that renders his wife "averse to it all" is contrasted with "perky visitors" and the flowers that they bring.

The poet imagines that the tumor of which his wife has been cured now resides in "Tumor Hell" where it lies "bleak and nubbled like a poorly / ironed truffle." The doctors who practice in teaching hospitals show the students how to deal with tumors: "batter it . . . strafe it . . . sprinkle it with rock salt and move on."

Now that his wife is better, the poet and his friends consider how he has fared. At first he was unable to concentrate, made lists, "wept, paced, / berated myself, drove to the hospital" and was "rancid with anger." Yes, it was awful, but he rejects pity--even self-pity. Only his wife has the right to give a name to the experience: "let her think of its name and never / say it, as if it were the name of God."

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Prozac Diary

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Dec-15-2000
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1988, having suffered for years from major depression and borderline personality disorder, and now also showing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the twenty-six-year-old Lauren Slater is prescribed a new drug: Prozac. In this "diary," a series of meditations and progress reports on her experience, Slater traces ten years on Prozac, providing a remarkable before-and-after picture of the drug's effects.

She is "hobbled" by her illness: has dropped out of college, has been fired from most jobs, has been hospitalized five times. By the end of the book, she has received a doctorate from Harvard, has a successful career as writer, teacher, and psychologist, and is in a happy marriage.

Despite these unquestionable positives, Slater is ambivalent about the drug, describing the shock of becoming "normal," of being assaulted by health. She describes the sexual dysfunction, her anxiety about losing the need and ability to write the kind of poetry she had written before, and the terrifying moment when the drug suddenly stops working, and she must confront the possibility that it may not be a reliable and permanent solution.

She comes to fear that, healthy, she is no longer herself but something the drug has created. At the same time, though, it is only because of the drug that she is even able to ask these questions. Finally, she thanks her doctor for his ambiguous gift: she has become like a beautiful fish, her "skin all silver," her "mouth pierced" on Prozac, "this precious hook."

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Peppered with a plethora of black and white stills, this book is a compilation of a physician's film reviews and reflections on how movies have mirrored the changes in medical care and in society's attitudes towards doctors and medicine over the last sixty years. Ten chapters blend a chronological approach with a thematic perspective: Hollywood Goes to Medical School; The Kindly Savior:

From Doctor Bull to Doc Hollywood; Benevolent Institutions; The Temple of Science; "Where are All the Women Doctors?"; Blacks, the Invisible Doctors; The Dark Side of Doctors; The Institutions Turn Evil; The Temple of Healing; More Good Movie Doctors and Other Personal Favorites.

The appendices (my favorite) briefly note recurring medical themes and stereotypes ("You have two months to live," "Boil the Water!"). Formatted as a filmography, the appendices reference the chapter number in which the film is discussed, the sources of the photographs, and a limited index.

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Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

After a stressful trip to cold-war Russia in 1964, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins tells how he developed a debilitating illness which confines him to bed. He is admitted to hospital for tests and treatments, and is diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but his condition deteriorates and he is given a gloomy prognosis. He notices that the depressing routine of hospital life tends to produce side effects that aggravate his condition.

With the blessing of one of his doctors, he checks out of hospital and into a comfortable (yet less expensive) hotel where the food is better and he can watch funny movies while he medicates himself with high doses of Vitamin C. He is convinced that the slow improvement in his condition is owing to his individualized methods of therapy and his having taken charge of his own situation.

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The Resurrection Machine

Gehrke, Steve

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This interesting and meaningful book of poems is difficult to describe and to classify. The author has had three kidney transplants and so is knowledgeable about chronic illness and its impact. Though he does write about dialysis and transplantation, he also writes about many other kinds of illness, including the chronic fatigue syndrome, dementia, autism, cancer, and mental illness.

"Three Doctors" describes the gathering of physicians each morning to check on their narrator/patient, regardless of who overhears their conversation. The "Non-verbal Autistic Man" traces the daily, lockstep gait of a human being who speaks only one phrase and who walks the same path over and over. Not all of the poems concern the failure of the body. There are also descriptive poems about the Midwest and about various well known personages. The constant reinvention of the individual, even in the face of difficulty and death, is a common theme of this collection.

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Souvenir

Phillips, Jayne Ann

Last Updated: Aug-04-2000
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Kate, a doctoral student, has chosen to move far away from the small town in which she grew up and in which her widowed mother (a school superintendent) and brother (an insurance man) still live. Kate's life is solitary, punctuated by unsatisfactory and transitory sexual relationships with men; she has headaches and wonders if "there were an agent in her body, a secret in her blood making ready to work against her" (p. 180).

While her mother disagrees with Kate's life choices, their long-distance relationship is sisterly, playful, and intimate. Kate sends her mother Valentine's Day cards, "a gesture of compensatory remembrance" since her father's death six years earlier (177). One year Kate forgets to send the card; soon after, her mother is suddenly hospitalized for tests that reveal a brain tumor.

Kate's brother insists that if she wants to come home, she must keep quiet about the likelihood of the tumor's malignance and the risk that the upcoming surgery will result in paralysis. He argues that their mother is terrified and that there is no point in making her more afraid. Kate objects to the concealment of the truth but complies unwillingly with her brother's request.

She gains permission to take her mother for a ten-minute walk outside, just time enough to take a ferris wheel ride. As their car reaches the top of the wheel, Kate is clearly upset. Her mother comforts her, saying, "I know all about it . . . I know what you haven't told me" (196).

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Zink

Bennett, Cherie

Last Updated: Jul-06-2000
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Ten-year-old Becky Zaslow is diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) just before her class talent show. The sudden changes in her world include a hospital roommate whose experience with chemotherapy has left her rude and embittered; a lively nurse who levels with her; and parents who react strongly and differently to her illness. Even though the treatments leave her bald and weakened, she shows up at the talent show just before her bone marrow transplant, to the acclaim of all but one of her classmates.

A key coping strategy for Becky is an increasingly vivid fantasy life in which she finds friends among a herd of zebras and one monkey. Holding her stuffed zebra, she "travels" to Africa to escape the pain and trauma of treatments. Gradually she loses ground; as her body gives way, her mind and spirit move increasingly to the other world where an old zebra offers wisdom and help for the crossing she is about to make. She dies, leaving behind a journal that becomes her younger brother's incentive to learn to read, a task he has been resisting.

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The Wisdom of the Body

Nuland, Sherwin

Last Updated: Jun-19-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Written by surgeon and renowned author Sherwin B. Nuland, this book offers both a detailed look into the workings of the human body and a glimpse into the heart and work of the author. Furthermore, it is also a philosophical treatise on the wonder of human life and the beauty of "animal economy." As a human biology text for the layman, the book explicates the major organ systems of the human body, such as the nervous system (including the sympathetic nervous system), the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract, the immunologic and hematologic systems (including coagulation, cell lines, lymphatics), and the urogenital system (including reproduction and childbirth).

Nuland intertwines dramatic stories of his surgical patients with the systems review. For instance, the book begins with the near death of a woman by hemorrhage from a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm. Another dramatic story involves the near death of a young diabetic woman from bacterial overgrowth in the gut. The reader also hears the patients' versions of their illness experiences--Nuland gives direct quotes from what they have said or written about their experiences. Through it all, Nuland expresses his awe and wonder at the workings and capabilities of the human body.

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